#8 Reggae

April 11, 2011 § 1 Comment

Reggae is a ground breaking musical movement whose inception began in the 60s largely through Jamaican artists experimenting with ska and rocksteady.  The musicians and social conditions present in Kingston coalesced into a movement and ideology that promoted Rastafarianism, liberation from oppression and later, a lot of college dorm posters with psychedelically themed marijuana leaves. Although shaped into a fully-fledged style and musical genre in the late 1960s, the Timorese expat seems to have received word of this revolutionary take on conventional rock rhythms sometime around 2004. And like a born again Christian, expats seem keen to communicate their new found wonder as widely as possible through background music at malai restaurants or dinner parties, conversations with Timorese or even wall hangings.

Inspiring stuff to wake up to

Reggae is noticeably popular in many third world nations, particularly in Africa and SE Asia. To the Timorese reggae speaks of the global oppressed’s resistance to western hegemony yet a communal understanding of a greater “one love”. To the expat, reggae speaks of imagined contact with counter-culture and a past era of youthful dalliance with not washing and playing hacky sack. The average expat is either too old or too invested in their conservative development appearance to truly embrace their longstanding Rasta image desires… but none the less they will throw themselves full force into a stirring Castaways’ rendition of obscure reggae artist Bob Marley’s No Woman No Cry.

Inside the expat cultural sphere, a musical reference to reggae is the equivalent of a CD of the Best of Bob Marley. This limitation in the cultural history of a vibrant and varied musical genre unaware of important musical milestone achievements made by Derrick Morgan, the Maytals, Prince Buster, The Pioneers or Bunny Lee doesn’t stop the malai listing “Reggae” as one of their favourite artists on their Facebook info page.

"As a reggage connoisseur, my favourite reggae album would have to be the Best of Bob Marley"

Although identifying important reggae artists might not be something that Malais are acquainted with, the expat can readily detect a reggae beat when they hear it. And therefore hunched over a badly cooked breakfast at Esplanada, while entertaining thoughts on activities that are conducive to hangovers, the expat isn’t above nodding their head to UB40 mutilating a classic song into another horrific version of easy listening reggae.

Photographer's impression of listening to UB40 while hungover

Because of Reggae’s popularity within the Timorese community, it serves as a convenient cultural bridge over which the malai can attempt greater integration and connectedness to their Timorese peers. This in the malai’s eyes assists with feelings of greater facilitation of community integration as well as edifying superiority over those malais with less contact with their Timorese colleagues. Therefore, the average malai believes no guitar sing-a-long at the beach is considered complete without drunkenly mumbling the verse of a Wailers’ song and then screaming the chorus, or the Monday morning off-hand bragging about the event as an example of the effortless linkages the expat has with the Timorese community.

I am thoroughly ENGAGED.

Although neither weed, rebellion nor dreadlocks are easily accessible cultural accessories in the Timorese expat environment, bongo drums are, and they provide the entry point for the musically amateur malai into the phantasmal sonic landscape known as Reggae. Nothing quite fills an expat with ephemeral ecstasy as expropriating the djembe from a competent drummer during a recital at a party and connecting with Timorese musicians through a pronounced and emphatic unrhythmic bongo performance. If the malai is particularly taken up with the experience, the purchase of a Timorese djembe (made in Indonesia) and the joining of drum circles once back in their country of origin may occur. Such happenstance may lead to pronounced  tirades about their drum circles’ lack of comprehension of the superior musical energy generated in  Timor where the expat’s experience of poverty and struggle makes the music more authentic.

"In a strange way, regularly participating in these meets is also to experience suffering and struggle"


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